Brown: Patriots grooming Edelman since he got there


Brown: Patriots grooming Edelman since he got there

Wes Welker's lack of catches, targets, and snaps in Week 1 has been a hot topic since the final whistle blew, and the discussion continued on Sports Tonight Tuesday night.

Troy Brown was in studio -- he knows a thing or two about being a wide receiver on the Patriots -- and CSNNE's Gary Tanguay asked him if the Patriots were "grooming" Julian Edelman into Welker's role in the slot.

Brown said the Pats have been doing that since Edelman got here . . . So, what to make of this?

Putting Stephen Gostkowski's struggles in context


Putting Stephen Gostkowski's struggles in context

Stephen Gostkowski doesn’t miss field goals often and he never misses extra points. His performance this season might not be the end of the world, but there’s no denying his departure from the norm: He’s missing field goals more often and, as was the case in the AFC Championship last season, he hasn’t been automatic on PATs. 

The stats are well-known by now: He’s 9-for-12 on field goals and 16-of-17 on extra points. His three missed field goals are tied for the most he’s had in a season dating back to 2013, and the current season is only six games young. 

For those who have followed the Patriots in recent years, it’s only natural to feel the sky is falling with Gostkowski. After all, the former All-Pro has been nearly peerless in recent seasons, leading the league in field goals made in 2013 and 2014 and tying for second last season. He was arguably the best in the league, and now, six games into the 2016 season, he’s been mediocre. 

The question is whether the Patriots can live with mediocre, and the answer is “definitely.” 

Of the 10 playoff teams last season, four had kickers who missed at least five field goals, including the two Super Bowl participants. Denver’s Brandon McManus had five missed field goals last season; Carolina’s Graham Gano had six. 

The list of good teams with OK kicking performances goes on, and it undoubtedly includes past Patriots teams. Remember, Adam Vinatieri missed nine field goals during the Patriots Super Bowl-winning 2003 season. 

Then there are Gostkowski’s past seasons. He’s obviously had a tremendous career, but he’s had less glamorous seasons sprinkled in with the All-Pro performances. Everyone has lived to tell about it. 

Take 2012. Gostkowski missed six field goals, tying a career-worst set in his rookie year of 2006. He still finished tied for eighth in field goals made, one behind Justin Tucker and ahead of, among others, Vinatieri. The Patriots went 12-4 and reached the AFC Championship, a game the Pats might have won against Baltimore if they didn’t rely on Gostkowski for more than half (seven) of their points (13). 

Gostkowski is currently tied for 15th with nine field goals made. He’s yet to have a particularly costly miss like he did with the PAT against the Broncos last postseason, although his lone field goal attempt in the Pats’ Week 4 loss to the Bills -- a 48-yard miss -- would have made it a 10-point game early in the second half. 

At his current rate, he’ll miss a career-high eight field goals. That is not good, and while it wouldn’t quite put him in end-of-the-line-David-Akers territory (Akers missed 13 field goals in 2012, his second to last season), it would put him in uncharted territory for a great career. 

If there's any silver lining with Gostkowski's numbers down, it's that he doesn't seem to have lost his leg. His 53-yarder in the season-opener was four yards shy of his longest kick from last season. 

Having a capable kicker is important. Having an elite one is a luxury the Patriots have had for the majority of the last 20 seasons. A miss in a key spot can doom a season, but Gostkowski still has time to correct what’s been a down year. 

Dont'a Hightower on Jamie Collins: 'He makes it a lot easier for me'


Dont'a Hightower on Jamie Collins: 'He makes it a lot easier for me'

FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower is coming off of one of the best games of his career, and he did it while running the Patriots defensive huddle without the help of his on-the-field partner at the linebacker level.

"It’s a lot more fluent having Jamie [Collins] out there," Hightower said on Wednesday. "A lot of the times we coordinate things a lot together. I usually take care of the front, he takes care of the secondary. We have our own way of doing things. Sometimes Jamie is just like, ‘No, you go ahead and you just make the calls and I’ll play off of you.’

"It helps having him out there. I mean, he does everything so he makes it a lot easier for me. Anytime I can have him out there with me, I’m 100 percent having him out there."

Hightower has plenty of experience playing without Collins, however, and Collins is accustomed to having to go without Hightower. Both had issues staying on the field in 2015, and although it's early, that trend has continued this season.

Hightower missed Weeks 2 and 3 due to a knee injury, and Collins missed Week 6 with a hip issue, meaning the duo has been available to coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia only three times this year. 

Last season the pair was active for 10 of 18 games, including both playoff games, and during a Week 5 win over the Cowboys, Hightower played just nine snaps. Collins dealt with an illness that kept him out for four games last season, and Hightower, as has been the case for much of his career, was limited by (and often played through) myriad ailments.

Both are vital to the long-term success of the Patriots defense in 2016, but it's been hit-or-miss as to when they'll be out there to play off of one another as Hightower described.

"Our linebackers, Jamie, Dont'a, they're two of the best in the league," said safety Duron Harmon following Hightower's dominating performance against the Bengals in Week 6. "Any time we can have those guys out there, they just continue to create havoc.

"They make plays, they make it easier for us, especially me. The quarterback can't look off as long when Dont'a's all in his face -- him and Jamie. Having him on the field is a plus. And when you get both of them on the field it's a double-plus."

And therein lies the issue: Having both Hightower and Collins out there together has felt like a luxury rather than the norm. 

At some point, the Patriots will have to make decisions as to what they'll do at the linebacker level for the foreseeable future. Both Hightower and Collins are slated to hit free-agency, and their durability will certainly factor into the equation when the Patriots make them offers to stick in New England.

Until then, though, both will work to be available as often as possible -- both for their team's sake and their own as they eye new deals -- where they can stress opposing offenses at a degree to which most linebacker combinations around the league can only aspire. 

"With us out there we’re able to do a lot of different things, [we have] a lot of versatility," Hightower said. "So hopefully we can both stay out there."

Hightower was removed from the Patriots injury report last week, meaning he's able to take on a full workload in practice. Collins, meanwhile, continues to be limited in practice, and his availability for Sunday's game with the Steelers is not yet known. In place of Collins, sixth-round rookie Elandon Roberts earned the bulk of the playing time against the Bengals last week. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo saw a season-high eight defensive snaps in the win.